Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 6 – Series Finale “The Iron Throne” Review
Game of Thrones series finale is over. And now our watch has ended.
I’m fine that the series finale will be polarizing. However, my guess is that the show runners were not expecting the level of backlash after “The Long Night”. That episode was highly anticipated and meant to be a crowd pleaser. But it subverted expectations by not giving Jon the heroic moment of killing the Night King. That decision to go against what some fans wanted set the stage for these last two episodes.
The events in “The Iron Throne” are a direct consequence of what happened in “The Bells”. Dany’s unfortunate fate is sealed and viewers will realize that at different points. Love it or hate it, I don’t think the show runners decided to write these turn of events for simply shock value. What can we takeaway from how Game of Thrones ended?
I do think that the show runners foresaw that Dany destroying King’s Landing would be controversial because many fans were invested in her as a savior figure. Despite the dragons and queens, Game of Thrones is not intended to be a fairy tale. There is no happily ever after in this story. The closest to the “Prince(ss) that was Promised” is Jon. Perhaps it can be debated that Dany became the greatest threat to the known world and Jon was resurrected as part of his destiny to put out her fire.
Dany’s death scene is shot quite well. It didn’t feel like Jon was simply enacting out his duty. It was a personal, intimate death. Dany’s death isn’t portrayed as a triumph as if Jon was ridding the world of a great evil rather it was poignant. Dany died with affection and love in her heart as she gazed into Jon’s eyes. If Dany and Jon’s relationships had more episodes to develop earlier in the season, the tragedy of it all could have had more of an impact. There’s a solemn and somber feeling to this scene and to most of the episode.
Looking at notorious figures in history, a powerful leader like Dany who believes that they know what’s best for everyone and wants to bring forth a new world utopia is someone to be very afraid of. These leaders do not come out of nowhere. They rose to power by galvanizing people’s support. There’s a dark, blind spot that people can have when they haven’t dealt with their personal wounds. And these rulers tap into that part of themselves as well as others.
The writers could have built towards Dany’s heel turn better. The writing needs to be on point so that as a viewer we should instantly feel it in our gut in understanding why Dany went scorched earth. While we can intellectually think of justifications for her actions afterwards, a rushed season meant that some fans felt emotionally disconnected. And confusion can lead to anger. On the other hand, Dany’s turn would be highly telegraphed thus losing the sting of seeing her go astray.
Personal wounds also affected Greyworm. He’s not evil, he’s just hurting so much after loosing Missandei that he believes Dany’s goal to “liberate/conquer” the world is morally justified even if it means killing innocent people. Dany’s blind spot is that she can’t see she’s become the thing she’s supposedly fighting against.
Tonally, it wouldn’t feel right for the show or the character if Jon lived happily ever after. He understandably feels the burden of killing his queen. It will be a while before he can come to terms with his decision, if ever. Jon started out as an everyman, evolved into the savior type/hero character and back to the everyman. He’s not a king anymore. His family lineage is not of importance now. But the choices he’ll make in his mundane life up North do matter to his community.
The ending scene where Jon and Tormund leave Castle Black is a good call back to the pilot. This time, instead of dead children in the forest, the Night’s Watch is bringing children beyond the Wall, a place Jon helped made safe since defeating the White Walkers. It’s a bittersweet moment because you can see the good that Jon has done and there is hope represented by the children, yet he had to sacrifice his lover in the process. Some fans are going to want more for Jon, after everything he’s gone through.
A part of me wants Jon to be king. He’s the most deserving. On initial impressions, it doesn’t feel quite right that Bran was elected to be king because this season (or entire series for that matter) didn’t give him a character arc to be a ruler. There’s good reasons why he’d make for a good king though. He’s wise and all seeing. He’ll bring stabilty to the realm and he’ll likely reign for a long time since he’s also the three-eyed raven. His supernatural abilities make him the most powerful person on the show and that power hasn’t corrupted him as far as we know. But mainly he hasn’t made any poor decisions that would disqualify him.
Dany’s vision from the House of the Undying came true. She never got to sit on the throne. The Iron Throne has caused so much death and suffering. Drogon melting the throne down is a memorable, iconic image. As expected, there is a new rule of succession. Sam first suggests a democratic voting system like how the Night’s Watch elect their Lord Commander. More realistically, Tyrion puts forth a check and balanced system where the ruler must have the support of the lords and lady’s of Westeros. In this system, the ruler can’t dictate by force; the ruler must work with the great houses to earn the vote. With any system, it will eventually deteriorate over time but this method at least should help limit needless wars and loss of life.
Peter Dinklage is given some good scenes and speeches to chew on in the series finale. Tyrion ended up being an important factor in breaking the wheel, not Dany. The Song of Ice and Fire, the book about the history of the wars, is likely written about the kings and queens not the common folk. Tyrion’s omission from the book is played as a rare comedic moment in the finale. It’s suggests that much of history is omitted or even revised by the gatekeepers of information. But perhaps it’s the show runners acknowledging that once Tyrion’s story line converged with Dany’s, he was relegated to mostly being in her shadow. The writers struggled to find a defining story line for Tyrion once the show outpaced the books.
The production value in the series finale is gorgeous. From the ash covered streets to broken down ancient buildings, it imparts a grim, ethereal vibe. I loved the shot of the doors opening to reveal Dany and behind her were Drogon’s outspread wings – enter the dragon queen. Some other nice touches are Brienne writing the good deeds about Jamie in the book. I’m glad that she was able to see the good side to Jamie. And Brienne calling for Ser Podrick, it’s a subtle way to convey he’s become a knight. Arya sailing out on a Stark ship to what’s west of Westeros is a spin-off I’d watch if that ever happens. But the HBO spin-offs are all prequels as far as I know. It’s fitting that Arya is off to a new adventure in an unexplored territory. Sansa becoming the Queen of the North is not as important as that she kept her kingdom sovereign and her people are free to make their own choices.
It’s going to take a little while to let everything sink in. I don’t know if I’m completely satisfied with the ending but there’s a lot I liked about it. I would have preferred to have stretched out the last two seasons longer. I care enough about the show that I’m thinking of how certain story lines and characters could have been handled differently. But I would not change Dany’s demise because unpacking her rise and downfall is a crucial cornerstone to understanding this epic story. I think the big pivotal events in this finale is based on what George R.R. Martin has planned for the books. The difference is that the books will have much more time setting things up and in logistically putting the pieces together in a more coherent manner.
As Game of Thrones gained incredible mainstream popularity, the show at times felt like it was obligated to put on fan pleasing, big budget entertainment. So on one level, I appreciate the show runners took characters fans cared about and made bold choices. I don’t mind that the show ended on a note that is not joyful but kind of emotionally numb or draining yet tinged with hope if you are the type of person who can see the silver linings. Some fans understandably got deeply invested in Game of Thrones and it became a part of their identity. Now that it is over we still have to face real life concerns about making meaning in one’s life and pursing personal fulfillment. Watching a TV show cannot fill that void in one’s self. But working through the disappointment and understanding the root of the anger is easier said than done. People are going to be passionately debating Game of Thrones for some time.